Young boss dilemma: how to lead and manage older employees

  | 5 min read

Seniority doesn’t always come with age

Respect for elders is something that is taken very seriously in Tanzanian society. You have to greet them respectfully with shkamoo and it’s inappropriate to address them by their first name (unless you add the title mzee or mama beforehand). But while treating older people in society with dignity and some level of authority is not necessarily a bad thing, it can get a bit complicated if you are younger and their boss.

You see, older people in society expect to be respected but they don’t always return the favour to younger people. It’s not uncommon for a senior member of society to think that their extensive years of experience and knowledge makes them smarter and better decision makers than younger people. And while indeed, age does bring wisdom, and there’s a lot you can learn from older people, if you are a young boss, they may not respect you.

So how do you address this dilemma without causing tension between you and the people you supervise?

  • Get to know the people you manage


The most powerful tool you can have on your side when you are managing people (no matter the age), is to understand them. Regularly have sessions with your employees where you get to know more about who they are, what they care about, what they value, etc. This will give you an understanding of their thinking process and how they make decisions. So, if ever, a conflict arises, you can understand why they are reacting that way, and know how to address it.

For instance, if you are the head of marketing and one of the people in your department consistently refuses to invest in social media marketing. Through conversations with them, you may have realised that they are more experienced in traditional marketing and are generally apprehensive about learning new techniques. So, to resolve the issue, you may have training on digital marketing techniques for the whole department (don’t single them out), to give them an opportunity to learn the benefits.


  • Listen to their input and offer help


It’s no secret that older people have a wealth of knowledge and they often like to share it. So definitely listen to their input and when you see that they are lacking, offer to help in an indirect way.

For example, instead of telling an older employee, “ this is the third time this week you haven’t updated the sales calendar”, say, “ You see, the sales calendar as a tool for keeping the whole team up to date. Are there any areas that you need further assistance or clarification on?”

Let your expertise lead


Instead of taking the “I’m the boss so do as I say approach” deal with employees that challenge you by simply showing your expertise. If there are studies, stats, or any other information that proves that your ideas are right, then quote them during your discussions (even send them to employees). At the end of the day, you want to seem fair and open to everyone’s input, but you make your decisions based on your knowledge of the best results possible, rather than your authority.


  • Show that you care about their success


Let’s face it, even if you may be dealing with older employees, kid strategies may help get them on your side. Simply put, sometimes you need to dangle some candy in front of them. So having incentives and rewards for employees that meet their KPIs or go the extra mile, is a great way to not only show that you pay attention to the efforts they make but that you are grateful to them. Moreover, being a generally generous and caring supervisor will make most employees want to stay on your good side to enjoy the fruits of your kindness.


  • Be the boss



While you should never side-step being nice and understanding, at the end of the day you have seniority and you should be assertive and confident in your role as the boss. You are the boss for a reason, so don’t get intimidated by employees just because they are older than you. As a leader, you need to treat everyone respectfully (despite age) and believe in the decisions that you make for your team. While managing people is a big part of your job, certain employees shouldn’t occupy a significant amount of your time or stress you out.

This may sound harsh, but at the end of the day, no employee is your slave. So, if you’ve put in your best efforts to work with them and they still can’t respect you, well, they can find another job.

They don’t have to work for you

Thanks to the technological advancements, there are plenty of new industries, expertise and positions that are being created – and many of them are being led by young people who have been raised in the internet era. So at some point, having younger bosses, is going to become the norm rather than phenomena.

Iman Lipumba
A digital storyteller, experienced in creating content that improves website visibility on search engines, enhances the user experience, and nurtures brand loyalty. With a background in the social sciences, an expert in researching complex ideas, and communicating them in engaging language to multiple audiences.